Dwane Casey has said it before and, before his second game at Scotiabank Arena since being turfed by the Raptors last spring, he had to say it again.
“I’m so proud of the team from last year, how they came out (and) won the championship,” Casey said following the Detroit Pistons’ shootaround Wednesday morning. “Seeing the banner up there is beautiful for the team, for the organization, for the country …
“(Raptors president Masai Ujiri) did a heck of a job changing the team and making sure he got those pieces that they needed and they won a championship. (Head coach Nick Nurse) did a good job of bringing them home.”
Casey, who spent seven seasons as the Raptors’ head coach, extolled a similar sentiment earlier this month when he praised Toronto’s season in an interview with The Athletic. But he also faced criticism after saying that the Raptors’ win “reinforced what I was doing” with the club “running the same offence, same defence, same philosophy, same things we built there for seven years.” Some suggested he was trying to take too much credit for the organization’s biggest success.
Casey tried to debunk those claims Wednesday, saying there’s “no animosity in my heart whatsoever … there’s no saltiness, no pepper, no hot sauce, anything whatsoever.
“It irks me when I read the narrative that Dwane is salty. I can’t say anything right,” he said. “I say, ‘OK, we got better every year.’ Oh, he’s salty. Or I say that we developed those guys. Oh, he’s salty. Nah. Dwane Casey is not salty at all. I’m happy for everybody who’s here, I’m happy for the organization.”
Casey’s influence may long be debated but there is no question the Raptors were a better team when he parted ways with the organization than when he arrived in 2011. The coach is hoping for a similar transformation in Detroit, where he signed a five-year deal a month after he was booted by the Raptors. The Pistons finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last year and were swept in the first round playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks. It was Detroit’s third playoff appearance in 11 years.
Getting to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 would be a feat for Detroit, who will likely require big seasons from Blake Griffin, currently sidelined by hamstring and knee issues, and Andre Drummond. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and analytics website FiveThirtyEight both have predicted the Pistons will slip back to being a sub-.500 team. Nurse isn’t so sure.
“They’re going to be knocking on the door again this year,” said Nurse, who went 0-3 against Casey’s Pistons last year. “They’re very well coached, they’re hard to play against … And we’ve certainly had our problems with them, right?”
“We’re on our way, taking steps in the right direction,” Casey said. “We’re not there yet, lot of work to do. Injury bug hit us with Blake and Reggie (Jackson) but we’re on our way, taking those steps. Our player development is exactly what we did (in Toronto) and I see our young players getting better.”
As for wondering how he would have fared as coach of a Raptors team that included Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol, Casey said it’s a game that could be played all day.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda, but didn’t,” he said.
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Casey, though, does have a ring of his own from his time as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m a little jealous because their ring is bigger than my ring,” he said, before adding a politically correct caveat. “But it’s a beautiful ring.”